What is an ‘Eggshell Plaintiff’ and When Does it Matter?
Personal injury law has many complicated factors for determining who is responsible for harm, how much harm they are responsible for, and how much that harm is valued monetarily. It’s easy to imagine a healthy person struck by a reckless driver and suffering several broken bones. But other less quantifiable scenarios arise. What if the victim is very old and more prone to injury? What if they already had an injury prior to the accident that is now worse? How do these things all fit together under personal injury law in California?
These are the situations where the “Eggshell Plaintiff” rule becomes relevant to a case. To understand what the eggshell plaintiff rule is, let’s first talk about the typical framework governing liability in PI cases, so we can better understand where and how the Eggshell Plaintiff rule fits in.
When Am I Liable?
Under California law, you are liable for an injury when it flows from your actions, or from actions that you were supposed to take but failed to. These actions are typically categorized under negligence, or in more extreme cases, recklessness. (You can read more about the differences between negligence and recklessness in our article here. Why do these categories matter? Because there is a third category under which an injury may occur. These categories are called “Unforeseeable Accidents.”
An unforeseeable accident is one in which you might be able to link the injury to the actions of one person, but which the defendant could not foresee or prevent. The result was impossible to predict or otherwise take an appropriate level of caution against.
A few different things can fall under this category. One case is known as ‘Acts of God’, typically referring to natural disasters. If a massive earthquake damaged the road and caused you to collide with another driver, it is unlikely that a court would find you at fault as the victim of a disaster that disrupted society at large. Even if there was theoretically a way you could have avoided the injury, this will typically be considered the result of an ‘Act of God’ rather than your actions. Most people simply aren’t prepared to find themselves right in the middle of an 8.7 earthquake.
Other instances could be outside the realm of natural disasters but still considered unforeseeable accidents. These include situations where you could not possibly perceive the danger to another individual. Imagine you were boating on a lake, and a scuba diver decided to surface directly in your boat’s path. Because you could not know this diver was present and could not avoid them even if you were perfectly vigilant, a court likely will state such an injury was an unforeseeable event.
This could also involve scenarios where the result of the injuring party’s actions was so bizarre that they could not have compensated for it with any level of caution. For example, if you popped open a can of biscuits and the neighbor thought it was gunshots and ran out of their house and hurt themselves, that is such an unusual result that no court is likely to hold you liable for making your neighbor fear for their life and getting injured.
Extent of Harm
The extent of a plaintiff’s harm is not a consideration under liability in personal injury law. If you were found responsible for their injuries, then you are responsible for all the damage dealt to the plaintiff no matter how bad it is. The severity of the harm does not change your culpability, even if a plaintiff got harmed much more than you would have expected. Under comparative negligence , you might be able to argue that a portion of the injury they suffered is in some way their fault, but you cannot claim that they are responsible simply because they suffered more harm than expected.
The “Eggshell Plaintiff”
So what does this all have to do with the Eggshell Plaintiff rule? Essentially, this rule states that just because a plaintiff was particularly vulnerable to harm does not change a defendant’s culpability for their injuries. Getting into a mild rear-end accident might cause no harm at all to a young driver, but may hospitalize a frail, elderly one. Just because this plaintiff was more vulnerable to harm does not reduce the defendant’s responsibility to compensate them. “This wouldn’t have hurt most people so badly” is not a mitigating defense. Furthermore, while a plaintiff is not entitled to recover damages for injuries from before the accident, the aggravation of an existing injury is still a recoverable claim.
How We Can Help
It’s not uncommon for injured people to hear they cannot sue for some reason or another. If an insurance company denied your claim because of your previous physical condition, there is a solid possibility that you have a case. Insurance companies are not out to provide any advice for your benefit. If your claim was denied, bring your case to us. We have decades of experience in personal injury claims, and we can review the facts of your case to see if there is some way that you can recover compensation. Schedule a free consultation today.